As I continued to work out the kinks, I enjoyed some really amazing events held at the track. In addition to the fete on New Year’s eve, I attended all of the paddock parties hosted by Gulfstream throughout the meet (as you can all tell, I was a complete wall flower while I was down in Florida!), and trust me when I say, they were very well orchestrated. Gulfstream’s paddock area features beautiful Greco/Roman (note the Greco comes first) architecture and a lovely water fountain which is set off by the spectacular lighting, which is lit up after nightfall. In my opinion, Gulfstream offers one of the best venues for a party that I’ve ever seen at a racetrack, bar none. One side note: I stayed in town for the Christmas holidays, the trek to Canada seemed like such a monumental task given all the weather and travel considerations, and I was sincerely touched by the kindness and generosity of trainer Rick Violette Jr. and his lovely family for hosting, entertaining and feeding me on Christmas day. And for those of you who might not be aware, Rick is an absolutely fabulous cook. Move over Bobby Flay!
Over the course of the meet, I learned several things. First, John was able to mispronounce more trainer’s names than I ever thought humanly possible. Among those he pummeled were Kiaran McLaughlin (you have to hear it to appreciate it), Christophe Clement (think ‘Clement’ Hirsch), Guiseppe Iadisernia (that was a tough one for those unfamiliar with the local scene), and my personal favorite, Eddie Kenneally (he always put the accent on the first part of his last name). He actually had a great sense of humor about it and was always the first one to poke fun at himself for those gaffs.
|The ultra-schooler, Frac Daddy, coming over to the set to say hello|
Something else I deduced during my Florida stint was that, like anyone else who has ever made a bet with any type of regularity, I found there were certain trainers, and horses, that I could ‘catch’ on a regular basis and others that I couldn’t. The trainers I seemed to have a good ‘feel’ for: David Fawkes (for those who don’t know him, one of the nicest guys you’ll meet), Ralph Nicks, Eddie Kenneally and Michael Matz. In fact, I would probably have to crown Matz ‘my man’ of the meet since I seemed to be able to catch him with an unusual frequency, which was made even more interesting since most of those we connected on weren’t favorites. In fact, my biggest success with him was an 18-1 shot named Helluva Hunch, who was a filly by Tapit going long for the first time.. But of course! Standing in stark contrast, the trainers that I couldn’t get a solid handle on included Christophe Clement (for those who are paddock watchers like myself, he appears to sponge/hose ALL off before the race which makes it harder to gage who is a nervous type and might have the propensity to melt down or who might be beginning to wash out) and Todd Pletcher. Yes, you heard right, I did say Todd Pletcher. I can already hear the whispers asking how can I fail to consistently connect with a trainer that hits at a 30% clip. Believe me, I’ve asked myself this very same question. His horses always looked spectacular in the paddock, so that effectively neutralized my most effective weapon--my eyes. In the end, I came to a simple conclusion: the key was figuring out when he had a vulnerable favorite, because let’s face it, they all got bet. So, it was that easy. Or was it? The reality is, if he had something live in there, it was a Sisyphean task (you know, that whole rock up the hill thing?) to try and bet against him. Coming from someone who had to put their picks out there day in and day out, he posed the biggest problem because if you chose a Pletcher favorite and the horse won, you were a chalk eating weasel, and if you didn’t have it, you were an idiot. You get my point.
With the meet in full swing and having finally worked through my nerves, I had encountered early in the meet, the final month and a half offered some pretty awesome days of racing. I was able to witness horses like champions Royal Delta and Animal Kingdom, the very classy Point of Entry, not to mention rising stars Verrazano, Orb, Dreaming of Julia and Close Hatches. Those horses are worthy of a separate blog in themselves, so I’ll be sure to jot something down in the near future, so stay tuned.
|Johnny DeSantis & Christina Bossinakis, Florida Derby Day|
It has been an interesting adjustment trying get back to my life as a writer now that I am back at the TDN offices, not to mention that I don’t need to worry about what I will wear, how my hair will look after a day of intense wind and humidity (ladies, you can probably appreciate this) and who my selection will be in the sixth on the card! It was hell of a ride, that’s for sure, I consider myself much richer for the experience.